25 June 2012

National Anthems

How difficult is it to sing The Star-Spangled Banner, the national anthem of the United States of America? Consensus says it's extremely difficult. The song has a range of one and a half octaves. There's not an American who can listen to it being sung without tensing up at the tricky "rocket's red glare" part and then, once we're through that, mentally commune en masse to push the singer over the dreaded "land of the free" part. Nowadays pop stars cheat their way through it by riffing, but I prefer the song sung straight. If I had my druthers, though, I'd sing America the Beautiful, God Bless America or My Country, 'Tis of Thee anytime.
It was claimed that Whitney Houston had a five-octave range. I don't know enough about music to comment on that, but here's her version of The Star-Spangled Banner, from 1991. However many octaves she could soar through, I've never ever heard it sung better:

Now, if I put my mind to it, I can still dredge up all the words to France's national anthem, La Marseillaise. My favorite scene in Casablanca has always been the one in which Victor Laszlo encourages the real French people (not those Vichy frauds) to stand up and sing their anthem loudly and proudly in order to drown out the provocative Die Wacht Am Rhein being sung by the Nazis a few tables away. I always sing along with them (the French, that is, not the Nazis). Very rousing moment. And here it is, that famous battle of the anthems from Casablanca, just because I wanted to watch it again:

Let's see, I know the first line of O Canada, the first line of Deutschland, Deutschland, Über Alles; I know the last line of God Save the Queen, which is a little bit of a cheat since the melody is the same as My Country, 'Tis of Thee. And I can hum the Hatikvah. Which brings me to my current conundrum, the Hino Nacional Brasileiro, the Brazilian national anthem. I have the melody down pat. I can hum, or lalalalala it, just fine. But even with the lyrics written out in front of me I can't seem to match them to the music. At least not fast enough. I'm always a line or two behind, trying to get my mouth around "brado retumbante" just as everyone else is belting out "raios fúlgidos." Why does this matter, you ask? Well, in the larger scheme of things I suppose it doesn't, other than that for me it's a sign of respect to know the anthem of a country you've been living in for ten years. Here's my challenge: I have two years to memorize it once and for all, practice it and be ready for the 2014 Soccer World Cup games here in Brazil. I have a feeling they'll be playing the anthem an awful lot.

Brazil's national anthem is peppy and sprightly and full of bounce, but it is famously interpreted by singer/actress Fafá de Belem as if it were a sultry cabaret number. Here is her inimitable version, complete with an about-to-open-up blouse. The cameraman does his share of lingering, perhaps in hopes of a great photo op.

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